Infant Oral Health
Why Infant Oral Health Matters
The health of your baby’s gums and the first teeth set the stage for later development throughout childhood and throughout life. Establishing a dental home early gives your child the chance to see that regular dental care is a normal part of life. Just like you teach your child to use the toilet and brush his or her hair, teaching your child to care for his or her teeth is an important part of self-care and grooming, and early dental appointments help to “normalize” this behavior.
Dental fear and phobia is a common issue in our society, with about 20% of American adults saying that they don’t get the regular care they need because they are afraid of the dentist. Seeing a pediatric dentist – a dentist who specializes in treating kids – helps your child make the association that the dentist’s office is a fun and safe place to be, greatly reducing the chances of developing a dental fear later in life.
Children with poor oral health have more missed days of school, more hospital emergency room visits, a reduced ability to learn at home and in school, and increased costs of dental care when compared to children with healthy teeth. Getting your child off to an early start will help reduce anxiety and provide a foundation for a lifetime of good dental health.
Common Infant Oral Health Issues
Although oral health issues tend to be less common in infants, they do exist, and we want to make sure that they are addressed. One of the most common questions we are asked about infant oral health is regarding cleaning the gums and the first baby teeth.
Parents can use a soft infant washcloth and water to gently clean the gums after feeding or before bed. No toothpaste is necessary at this age although infant toothpastes are available and we can discuss these with you if you’d like. When the first teeth come through, we’ll discuss what to look for in an infant toothbrush and toothpaste so you can give your child the best possible start.
While a toothbrush and toothpaste are important tools in maintaining oral health, diet plays an equally crucial role. Children establish dietary habits early – within the first twelve months of life. That is why this is such a critical time to encourage your child to eat healthy foods and snacks. The best and simplest advice is to encourage milk and water and do not offer your child juice in any form, chocolate milk, or other sweetened beverages. Once a child starts these habits, change becomes very difficult. Adding sugar-sweetened beverages to a sippy cup or bottle prolongs the amount of time that the sugar is on the teeth. Avoiding it altogether is the best approach, but if you must give your child a sweetened beverage, restrict exposure to meal times only out of a regular cup to minimize the time of exposure on the teeth.
Dr. Facko is often asked about bottle and pacifier use and thumb-sucking. Pacifiers and thumb-sucking are ways that your child self-soothes, and this is perfectly appropriate in the early years. Once your child reaches the age of three, however, these habits can affect dental development, and we can discuss strategies to discourage them. We do recommend that you never put your baby to bed with a bottle, especially if it contains anything other than water. Juice, formula, and even breast milk can pool in the mouth overnight and lead to decay in those little teeth.
When Should Your Child’s First Visit Take Place?
Like the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association, we recommend that your child’s first dental visit should take place by her first birthday.
That said, we also believe in flexibility and trusting your instincts as a parent. If everything appears to be developing normally and you feel confident in your child’s health, then waiting until he or she is twelve months old is perfectly appropriate. If, however, you have any concerns about your child’s dental health, dental development, or oral habits, you are always welcome to call our Palos Heights pediatric dental office and request an appointment.
Why Palos Pediatric Dentistry?
At Palos Pediatric Dentistry, we treat your children as if they were our own. It’s as simple as that. Our focus is on preventive care and providing you and your child with the tools and information you need to help your child stay healthy.
Recent studies have shown a clear link between dental health and overall health, which has come to be known as the “oral-systemic link.” Providing specialized dental care for your child is just as important as your child’s yearly check-ups with the pediatrician. In addition to providing exams and cleanings, we will also review your child’s diet and hygiene habits and provide specific recommendations to help your child remain healthy.
We deeply value your involvement with your young child and invite you to accompany your child during his or her visit. We’ll always take the time to discuss your child’s care and health with you – you are, after all, a vital part of your child’s healthcare team!
Call our office today to schedule an appointment for your infant and take the first steps toward a lifetime of healthy habits.